Subscribe now

A Guide to Christian Living

By John Calvin
July 2010 | Review by Anthony Oughton


The Christian life, as Calvin describes it, is lived simultaneiously in the shadow of the cross and in the bright light of the resurrection. That the writer himself knew something of the cost of discipleship is clear from a consideration of his own experience.

  • Publisher: Banner of Truth
  • ISBN: 978-1848710405
  • Pages: 167
  • Price: £10.00
Buy this book »

Book Review

This was originally a stand-alone chapter from Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian religion, published in 1552 as a pocket-sized French edition. The Banner of Truth has now made Robert White’s translation available in an attractive gift edition, also pocket-sized.

Calvin’s intention was to provide a basic manual for French Christians ‘hungering and thirsting for Christ’. The book has five chapters — ‘Scriptural foundations for Christian living’; ‘Denying self: the key to Christian living’; ‘Living under the cross’; ‘The glory of the life to come’; and ‘The blessings of this present life’. These chapters are subdivided by the translator into shorter sections.

The whole is clear and well integrated, bringing out the orderly exposition that makes Calvin highly readable as well as profound. The book is written against the background of ‘the philosophers’, an allusion which is helpfully referenced in brief endnotes.

The classical understanding of life and morality is weighed against the Christian one and found wanting. Calvin identifies this Christian life as one of loving righteousness (1 Peter 1:16), following Christ (Romans 6:17–18) and reflecting Christ’s image in our lives.

He develops his theme through the truth that ‘we are not our own’ in body or mind, and are to be submitted to the Lord so that vices like pride and greed are driven out. We imagine ourselves ‘steadfast and solid’, but God exposes what is ‘all a sham’ in our lives, alerting us to our ‘frailties’.

Typically, Calvin does not mince his words but writes with vigour and challenge. At the same time, at the heart of the book, is a pastoral kindness that recognises human weakness and points us to Christ. Calvin keeps a fine balance between scorning the vanities of life and not hating God’s good gifts.

He has a section which encourages us to serve diligently wherever God has placed us. White’s notes helpfully point out that Calvin advocates not the fixity of callings but the need to be realistic and content rather than waste our time and gifts pursuing an idealised life.

Is it all still relevant? Certainly! A great introduction to Calvin; and a book to return to many times.

Book Reviews

Read our latest book reviews

Star RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar Rating
The Christian and Technology
John V. Fesko

Even the most hardened Luddite will find himself using a satnav, mobile phone, or email on occasion. But John Fesko urges us not to reach for the latest gadget without thinking carefully about how it might shape our minds, relationships,…

See all book reviews
Star RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar Rating
Christ Victorious: Selected Writings of Hugh Martin
Hugh Martin

Hugh Martin (1822–1885) was one of those 19th century Scottish theologians whose published works have stood the test of time. With good reason, for his works are consistently sound, reverent, edifying, and challenging to mind and heart. This is a…

Star RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar Rating
God’s design for women in an age of gender confusion
Sharon James

Is our belief in male headship culturally outdated, and should we see alternative ideas of marriage as ‘progress’? Is it possible to be born into the wrong body, and is sexual freedom good for women? Does Scripture show us a…

Sexuality and Identity (trilogy)
Star RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar Rating
Sexuality and Identity (trilogy)
Owen Strachan

These three punchy books address pressing issues: what the Bible teaches about lust (on desire), about homosexuality (on Biblical sexuality) and about transgenderism (on identity). The trilogy approach keeps each book short and focused while dovetailing effectively. Each book has…